Las Vegas

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Las Vegas. Everything about this town is absurd. There’s no reason I should like it. I don’t gamble. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I hate 115-degree afternoons in July. I can’t afford half the merchandise in its glittering high-end shops. None of the hotel swimming pools are any good for lap swimming. Many of the visitors are wholly objectionable. But for a few days, every once in awhile, I really like Las Vegas.

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If you abandon all sensibility Las Vegas is a tiny wonderland. Days of the week disappear. Day and night can disappear. Time disappears. It’s so funny that watch stores abound, yet there are no clocks anywhere. Inside the vast casinos there are no windows. No daylight. Music descends from the sky, inside and out. Inside the Forum at Caesar’s inside looks like outside. Everything is ersatz, nothing is real. That’s the magic of it all.

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I spent five days in Las Vegas this week attending COSMOPROF, the huge cosmetics trade show. (A cosmetics trade show is as unreal as the town itself.) I stayed at the MGM Grand, where I had stayed once before—years ago back when COMDEX was a separate computer event, not combined with the Consumer Electronics Show. I remembered a huge, 100m+ long pool, ideal for workouts. That pool is gone, replaced by acres of many pools and bars and a snaking river of water that on one 110+ degree afternoon was crowded with couples, families, bands of about-to-be drunk young men, all holding exotic drinks in pastel cups, winding along the waterway in a trance of overheated happiness. Too hot, too crowded for me.

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In the daylight Las Vegas is a sad construction, an outdated amusement park without the thrills. At night, though, Las Vegas turns on its charms. The fountains sparkle, the brilliant lights on Las Vegas Boulevard flash, the silly hotels suddenly become palaces of delight. Are we in Paris? Venice? Ancient Rome? The Middle Ages? Water jets play their fantasy; walls of water cool the street. Nowhere is shopping fancier, more experiential and concentrated. Where else in the span of about half an hour could you buy a half million dollar Richard Mille watch, a hundred inch strand of Mikimoto pearls, a fifty carat Harry Winston diamond ring?

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Las Vegas sits in a basin on the floor of the Mojave Desert, surrounded by mountains.  By any reckoning there shouldn’t be a city here.  A make-believe city in a make-believe landscape. Natural water resources are scarce yet water is everywhere, like manna from Heaven.

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Returning to San Francisco, to a cool foggy evening, was a relief on many levels.  Back to reality.  Yet I’m grateful for those few days of heat and fake glamour and wild diversity.  I’m glad Paul Smith had my missing blazer button–small pleasures add up.

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